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The King’s Speech
“Did you see The King’s Speech?”, “Is stuttering really caused by psychological trauma?” “Do speech therapists really use such techniques to treat stuttering?”, These are just some of the questions I’ve been asked about the Oscar winning film The King’s Speech. This film brilliantly captures King George VI’s struggle with stuttering and beautifully depicts the relationship that evolved between himself and his eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue.
Let me begin by stating that I truly enjoyed the film and very much appreciate that it has increased awareness and cultivated understanding for those who stutter. The emotionality, fears, and anxiety that some stutterers have during particular speaking situations were brilliantly portrayed.
Although Logue wasn’t a certified speech therapist; he certainly exercised a progressive approach and used many valid techniques to treat stuttering. First, he began treatment ensuring that Bertie was motivated to participate. A client’s desire to make a change, to practice daily, and to follow through with recommendations is essential. Without client motivation, therapy is not as effective or efficient. Logue definitely recognized this factor when accepting the King’s case. Like Logue, I begin therapy confirming that my clients and their families are motivated and want to be in therapy. This is because it is extremely difficult to make change when clients are not fully invested in the process. Another important element emphasized was that Logue believed in building a strong, long lasting bond with his client. As a dedicated speech therapist myself, I also strive to have an open and trusting relationship with my clients. Although I am “the speech expert” it is important to make clients feel comfortable by encouraging on-going dialogue and empowering them with my knowledge. Logue also had Bertie’s wife participate in his sessions (remember she was sitting on his stomach during the diaphragmatic breathing exercises J). Similar to Logue, I strive to include family members and loved ones into the session as I realize that they are with the clients on a more regular basis and can help them improve carryover to everyday situations.
In many ways, this film shows how the speech language pathology profession has evolved over time. It was once thought that stuttering was caused by some type of psychological trauma. However, this theory is no longer valid. Although the cause of stuttering is unknown, it is now generally thought to be neurological in nature and somehow tied to genetics. However, stressful situations, changes in routines, and decreased sleep may exacerbate stuttering.
Now, let’s move onto the therapy techniques! In this movie, it appears that every known technique effective or not was demonstrated. Logue introduced some fluency enhancing techniques like oral reading, masking (remember when Logue had Bertie read aloud while music was playing in the background? That’s masking!), singing, making him angry so he would curse, and speaking loudly. While these techniques may enhance fluency, unfortunately the effects are only temporary. Some longer lasting strategies that were shown in the film were some behavioral techniques to desensitize him, as well as diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation techniques. Bertie was also encouraged to prolong vowels, and to glide into words using east onsets, light contacts, and bounces. All these techniques are still used today. Depending on the client’s abilities an experienced speech therapist can determine which approach is most appropriate for him or her.
In the end, Bertie was still a person who stutters but he gained a sense of confidence and became an effective communicator. For those of you who have not seen The King’s Speech, I highly recommend it.
Interested in reading more about this film? If so, I suggest reading the following insightful articles:
Bowen, C. (2011, February 15). Lionel Logue: A Pioneer in Speech-Language Pathology. The ASHA Leader.
Bowen, C. (2011, February 15). On the Trail of Lionel Logue: One SLP’s Excellent Adventure. The ASHA Leader.
Payne, K. T. & Pearlman, R. (2011, February 15). SLP as Action Hero? Film Review of The King’s Speech. The ASHA Leader.
Kimberly Scanlon, M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech language pathologist, an author, and a mother. As the owner of Scanlon Speech Therapy, LLC, a unique boutique practice in Bergen County, Kimberly embraces individuality and treats the whole person. Her goal is to spread compassion, hope, and some speech, language and literacy tips one moment, one person at a time. Her first book, My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development and her second book, Learning to Read is a Ball are available for purchase at online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.